THE SCHOOL motto, “Do your best,” not only echoes throughout the festive halls and colorfully decorated classrooms of Clark Memorial in Winchester, but it’s also demonstrated by one of their newest and most beloved teachers, Brittney Graves. She works to balance the needs of nonverbal students with particular challenges and with those who learn at grade level. “I teach in an inclusion pre-K classroom to 3 and 4-year-olds with and without mild to severe disabilities,” said Graves. “We can have a maximum of 20 students a day in the class, which consists of 10 typical students and 10 atypical students. The concept of the classroom is to have typical students demonstrate age-appropriate skills to those who are delayed. I also use the small-group or one-on-one method because I have students with below and above-average cognitive skills.” Last year, Graves displayed her dedication by teaching a classroom full of students during the day and then attending classes at night to earn her teaching certification.
“My two assistants and I work hard to balance potty training, de-escalating meltdowns, teaching to the needs of each student, and collecting data,” said Graves. “We are also teaching the class how to use American Sign Language (ASL) so that each student has a universal way to communicate. I currently have five nonverbal students in my classroom. I am not fluent in ASL by any means, but I’m learning as I teach. It’s fun to see the excitement of my students when they realize they can understand each other without words.”
“There are a lot of requirements other than actual teaching, between the amount of paperwork, [Individualized Educational Plan] meetings, data collection, etc. It is sometimes hard to find the ability to balance it all. I know it will level out in time; it’s just tricky when you’re new.”
When asked about the easiest part of teaching, Graves said, “Loving the students, even on the hardest days. Seeing their smiles, silly dances, [and] little high-fives. Their hugs [and] their growth makes everything worth it.”
Graves credits her mother, Angelina Graves-Martin, for making the biggest positive impact in her life. “She raised me and my two younger sisters by herself for a large part of our lives. She made many selfless sacrifices for as long as I can remember just to help provide opportunities for us in life. She’s always been our cheerleader and our rock. She has truly given the three of us the confidence and support we need to become the women we are today.”
“Teachers, assistants, cafeteria staff, janitorial staff, or anyone who works directly with students on a daily basis are to be admired,” said Graves. “It takes a lot of patience, time, and commitment to do the jobs we do. It’s definitely not about the money with these careers.”
The future looks bright for Graves, who plans to earn her master’s or doctorate in early childhood education. Besides living each day by the school motto, Graves said it’s best to “inhale confidence and exhale doubt.” GN